*I changed the title of this post from its original, “The breakthrough.” Though the following events created a personal crisis, they did not provide the final impetus for me to ‘wake up’ to my abuse. (That happened a few weeks ago.)
** This post is very long and not particularly well written. I just wanted to purge it from my system, once and for all. I am continuing to tweak it for accuracy. I welcome comments, but it’s mostly for me.
Backstory: I suffer from anxiety. I also have a fear of heights. My spouse is well aware of this. Several years ago, I trusted her to drive us down into a steep canyon. I did alright during the descent, as the lane was set on the cliff-side of the road, but I could tell I would have trouble on the way back up in the other lane, which was on the edge of a steep drop-off and had no guardrail. I got more and more worked up thinking about the trip back up to the top until I finally took a painkiller to take the edge off. (I am not a drug user, but she had the pills with her, so it seemed worth trying.) On the way back up, she decided to ‘mess with me,’ becoming jovial and boisterous, taking her hands off the wheel over and over, and pretending as if she was going to lose control of the vehicle. I went from very tense to full on panic attack. When we got to the top, I told her she had betrayed my trust and that I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to trust her again. She laughed it off and said I was being ridiculous, that she’d just been trying to help me relax and get over my fear. After we got to the top, she ignored my request to drive away and parked me where i had a nice view of the canyon while she got out to take pictures. I decided that I was in fact being ridiculous and that everything had been my fault. I left the canyon full of shame and self-loathing for allowing my anxiety get the better of me.
The event: A couple of months ago, we made a cross-country trip. Several weeks before the trip, I decided on my own that I did not want to hold the family back and would brave a scenic skirt through the mountains for the sake of the kids and my desire to conquer my fears. She mentioned that she really wanted to go up to the peak of one of the more well-known mountains. I told her that would be alright but that I might want to wait near the bottom while she made the quick drive up.
We entered the mountains at night, driving from an hour before sunset until an hour after dark. We had no itinerary, so that night at our hotel, she decided we would drive to and up the mountain the next day. The following day, we ventured further into the mountains. I did well, only tensing up slightly through the scenic high country.
Things went well until my son, who has a severe mental disability, began to indicate that he needed to use the restroom. However, there weren’t any stopping places. He’s very picky about where he will go, so we finally decided he could use the restroom at the mountain’s visitor center. In the meanwhile, he got quite worked up and became very demonstrative of his unhappiness both vocally and physically. The noise and added commotion wore on my nerves as we continued on the high-altitude roads.
I had considered simply staying with the family as we went up the mountain, but my calm completely eroded by the time we arrived. Spouse began ascending the mountain without giving me the opportunity to vacate. I tried positive thinking: this isn’t so bad. It worked, at least until we reached the part of the mountain where I could look up and see the winding road that circled around the peak. I started to panic and told her it would be best if I could get out and wait for her to come back down. I was willing to wait on the side of the road. It turned out the visitor center was just past the park entrance, so I insisted I be dropped off there.
We decided it would be easier and safer if I took our son (who is fifteen, has no natural respect for heights, and is very hard to control in public places) to use the bathroom at the visitor center and then wait with him there for the girls to get back from the peak. By the time she let us out, I felt psychologically crushed by my failure to stay with the family on the trip up the mountain. My son showed no interest in continuing up, but I felt terrible anyway. I apologized to my spouse profusely, choking back tears of shame. Still, I thought to myself, you’ve done better than you have in the past and you’re determined to beat this. It’s time to get over the fears holding you back. This incident is the final proof you can’t go on this way.
I had no idea how much worse things were about to get.
Spouse and daughter decided to get out at the visitor center, too.
(It should be noted: I have chronic pain and tendonitis in my hands, wrists, and shoulders. I wear various braces depending on the situation and had my light braces with me to help control my son. He is very stubborn about moving, hates to walk, loves to bolt and run away, and is a master of passive resistance, twisting and contorting himself onto the ground where, once situated, he is nearly impossible to move.)
My spouse decided to take photos of our six-year-old in the butterfly garden at the visitor center. Photos are an old point of contention between the two of them. My daughter likes to make faces and Spouse likes to get worked up about it, to the point of getting nasty and yelling. It rarely works out and Spouse gets really angry. My daughter got up to old tricks in the butterfly garden and Spouse started to storm back to the car. I didn’t know if she meant to leave me with both kids, but my son was already giving me more than I could handle, refusing to walk, then pulling away, and was in the process of tugging me back up the trail to the other side of the visitor center away from the direction of the car. I was still in the midst of a full-on panic attack from being on top of a mountain and my wrists were killing me from the struggle with my son. So, now Spouse was going to leave me to contend with both kids without so much as a word?
I decided that wasn’t going to happen. I told my daughter to go with her mother as planned. I could still see her ahead on the trail to the parking lot, so I told my daughter to run fast and call loudly to make sure her mother knew she was there. My son, meanwhile, was headed off in the other direction and I had to make a split-second decision. Deciding there was no way Spouse would actually leave our daughter alone on the top of a mountain if she knew she was there (but the thought did enter my head; why else would I have decided she would never do that?), I turned my back on my son to watch my daughter, yelling ‘Mommy! Mommy’ as she went, until she was within a few feet of her mother. Once I was certain they were together, I turned and ran for my son, who was nearly out of sight by then. I recovered him a few feet around the bend of the trail, headed up towards the visitor center. I was really upset with Spouse for the whole situation, but at least things were back on track.
Son had not yet used the restroom so I decided that was first priority. We made our grueling way (my wrists were killing me, as he flopped to the ground over and over, only for me to pull him up again) to the visitor center. My son flirted with using the bathroom for ten minutes, didn’t manage to go, then we came back out to wait. Just then a frantic woman came into the center and said, “Sir, excuse me! Do you have a little girl with blonde hair? She’s alone back there on the trail, crying and calling for help! You had better go check it out!”
Holy shit. No way! She had abandoned our six-year-old daughter on the mountain? I couldn’t believe it. I didn‘t believe it. I figured there had to be some mistake, that it couldn’t possibly be true. Then again, the first thing I muttered (under my breath) was ‘that bitch.’ I started dragging my son (who was tired of walking and had become an immovable force by this time, constantly letting his legs go out from under him) back down the trail. I called for my daughter with what little air I could drag as I completely and totally freaked out. People passed me and asked questions, trying to help, but I could barely respond. I guess my throat was closing off from the stress. I rasped out what I could, pushing and pulling my son, trying to hurry, moving like a turtle in molasses, trying to call my spouse on the phone to see if the woman at the center had been mistaken, as I strongly suspected. (There was no reception on top of the mountain.) I finally made it back to the parking lot. The car was gone. There were no sign of my daughter. No one there had seen her. I turned back up the trail, repeating the process of calling and dragging all the way back to the visitor center. I thought of calling a park ranger, but then I was afraid we might lose the kids (I’m not sure why I thought that, it was an unreasonable thought at the time, but I was completely panicked and that’s what I thought), and I was 99 percent certain she was with my spouse. She just couldn’t have turned her back on our daughter, especially over a couple of photos. Could she? There’s a 1 percent chances she’s lost, and we might lose the kids if I contact the authorities. I didn’t know what to do, so i just kept trying to get calls through. In hindsight, I should’ve told someone. I just wasn’t in my right mind.
Finally, I demanded that the universe let my call go through. It did. Just long enough for me to ask “is ******* with you?” and to get the reply, “Yes, of course, where else would she be?” Then the line went dead. Then all of that panic and shock caught up with me physically and I sank through the floor.
I realized at that point exactly how much my life sucks.
When they came back down, I had no fight in me. I had no proof that she’d done anything wrong or even tried to scare me. I was also terrified of pissing her off before the drive back down by pressing the issue. Once we made our way down, it took us another three hours to leave the mountains. By that time, I had convinced myself that the entire incident was my fault, all due to my phobia and anxiety. I felt ashamed for being so suspicious and hateful. How could I entertain those thoughts about the woman who loves me? I sank into a deep depression that lasted for the rest of the trip and several weeks afterward. I was completely devastated. Still, I didn’t really entertain the thought that she might be orchestrating events to manipulate me. I needed to stop that kind of sick thinking.
So, what do you think? Damning evidence, one more wishy-washy adventure in Narc-abuse land, or am I simply a hateful and suspicious husband?
*When I finally admitted to myself I might be a victim of abuse, I asked my daughter about what happened on the mountain. She got really quiet and her head sank. I told her there were no right or wrong answers, she wasn’t in trouble no matter what; I just wanted the truth.
She said when she approached her, her mother said ‘go back to Daddy’ and kept walking. When my daughter came back to her panting that I was gone, only then did she relent and allow my daughter to come with her. (Hmm, that’s weird. I keep saying my daughter instead of ‘our.’ Wonder what that means.)
On its own, it’s a nothing event, a simple misunderstanding interpreted in a damning light by a husband subconsciously looking for an excuse to leave. Taken in the context of the rest of our marriage, it comes off with a darker tone.